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Federal Eye: Eye Opener: One year of ‘open government’

“Open Gov the Movie” – from Delib from Delib on Vimeo.

Happy Thursday! One year ago today, good government groups and transparency advocates cheered as President Obama issued his first executive orders mandating the government “adopt a presumption in favor” of Freedom of Information Act requests and requiring that agencies become more transparent.

“The government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears,” Obama wrote in his FOIA order.

The other order said the Obama administration “will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.”

The jury’s still out on whether the government has improved the FOIA process (many would say no), but others agree the government has made big steps regarding transparency and collaboration.

Chris Quigley, cofounder of the British e-democracy company Delib, has spent much of the last year consulting federal agencies on their “open government” or Gov 2.0 plans. (Gov 2.0 — for those of you not in the know — is the emerging practice of local, state and federal agencies using the latest web technologies for basic government services and to interact with constituents. This is anything from a lawmaker’s YouTube page, the mapping technology found at Recovery.gov, federal agencies using twitter or GSA’s new open dialogue tool.)

Quigley produced a 13-minute video (see above) that features interviews with several open government advocates and local and federal government officials discussing the first full year of Obama’s open government initiatives.

Quigley concludes that the biggest challenge facing agencies as they implement Obama’s orders is how to effectively turn potential citizen feedback into meaningful, effective policy.

“That is an area where perhaps agencies are struggling,” Quigley said in an interview from London. “I think it’s a learning thing, the tools will get better, federal agency civil servants will get better. I would say that things are getting better, but with opening things up, you’ll get that challenge of how you manage that.”

Jeffrey Levy, an EPA web and social media manager, tells Quigley in the video that, “People are concerned about too much participation,” spawned by Gov 2.0 efforts. Agencies seem especially worried about receiving thousands of comments of feedback and not having th staff and resources to sort through them.

“My usual response is, don’t be worried you’re going to get 2,000 comments. Be worried you’re going to get zero.”

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